The latest on citizenship

On Thursday, September 19, 2019 Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality and Diversity met with the new Secretary-General of Citizenship (S.G.), Athanasios Balerbas on the occasion of his newly assumed duties. In addition to an acquaintance and mutual exchange of information, the main purpose of the meeting was to receive clarifications and briefings on the next steps towards resolving several outstanding issues under his jurisdiction. Specifically, in regard to the difficulties in the process of acquiring Greek citizenship for the second generation, as well in the naturalization of third country nationals. Difficulties, which arise either from bureaucratic difficulties or from gaps in legislation.

To elaborate further, the topics discussed were: 

Bureaucratic difficulties in acquiring Greek citizenship

Regarding the long-standing issue of extreme delays in processing applications, both in the procedure for the second generation and in naturalization, the S.G. noted his intention to support further resourcing of the services as well as to provide additional incentives towards civil servants, with the ultimate goal of speeding up the procedures. He informed us that from personal visits to the services he has already found the number of employees to be even lower than that indicated in the official data and that the numbers do not meet the actual needs. On our part, in insisting on the issue of there being multiple speeds in the processing of applications, depending on the region and of course the number of staff, we highlighted the specific case of the Thessaloniki Citizenship Directorate, a case of which we have talked about in the past. This service, despite its relatively high number of staff, continues to be alarmingly behind in the processing of applications compared to other Departments with fewer staff and a larger number of applications, a case for which the S.G. was aware.

The S.G. was also aware of the delays in the municipal registration of men, an issue which is still pending despite the relative efforts towards its resolve. In this regard, he informed us that he has already requested an economic and technical study on the effectiveness of the administrative move of the Directorates which came into effect in January 2019, creating an additional bureaucratic procedure of transferring the files of male citizens.

Pending issues in naturalization 

In March 2019, the Law 4604 was passed, which foresees reforms in both the preconditions as well as the process of naturalization. Under this new law, the current interview process for naturalization is withdrawn and replaced by a standardized procedure (test). However, the necessary ministerial decision defining the new procedure has not been issued. On this matter, the S.G. explained that for now, they are considering the specifications for new procedure proposed by the previous government. In the meantime, the proceedings will continue as they were until further notice. On our part, we emphasized the need for any examination of an applicant’s degree of proficiency in Greek language, history and culture to consider any learning difficulties. The S.G. agreed that the procedure should respond to the learning difficulties of the applicants, as is the case for Greek citizens in similar cases.

“Freezing” of citizenship procedures

Also discussed during the meeting were several recent claims in various media outlets pertaining to the granting (or not) of Greek citizenship and the potential reassessment of applications. Specifically, in response to our question around the concern raised, due to the recent publications about the “freezing” of citizenship procedures, the S.G. explained that due to national elections and administrative changes, difficulties arose in publishing citizenship decisions bearing the signature of the previous Special Secretary General of Citizenship. This issue concerns the decision according to the articles 1A and 1B of the Citizenship code as well as the naturalization of co-ethnic Greeks. The administrative changes due to the elections, caused as a result first, for these particular decisions to be sent back to the Regional Directorates of Citizenship and secondly, for the S.G. to not be able to sign any new decisions until he is assigned the necessary authorizing responsibilities*. It was however made clear that there is no question of re-evaluating files which have already been evaluated and signed. Having in mind however, the problems this administrative gap has caused for the applicants, where for example in many cases some of the required supporting documents have expired (e.g. residence permit), the S.G. stressed that the General Secretariat for Citizenship will issue a relative directive towards the Regional Citizenship Directorates to not take into consideration such expired documents in the processing of applications. 

*On 7.10.2019 by decision of the Secretary-General of Citizenship, the right to sign decisions on the acquisition of Greek citizenship and other acts was transferred to the Heads of the Regional Citizenship Directorates.

Other issues

As for the leaks to the media of an apparent plan to grant Greek citizenship to third-country nationals due to investments in real estate worth at least 2m euros as stated in many media outlets, the S.G. stated that this is not true as it goes against the Greek Citizenship Code as it stands today. In addition, he is personally ethically opposed to such an arrangement.

Concerning the transparency of the Secretariat, the S.G, assured that it would continue to publish statistics on the acquisitions of Greek citizenship based on the practice so far.

Lastly, we focused on the lack of information from the General Secretariat and therefore the abundant misinformation. We emphasized the need for reliable and timely information towards those directly concerned, underlining the Secretariat’s responsibility towards the citizens who have applied for Greek citizenship and continue to be in an inexcusable multi-year long state of waiting.